Good People vs. Bad People

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What makes someone a good person vs. a bad person? Good people are usually trustworthy, responsible, generous, polite, kind to others and honest.  Bad people tend to be selfish, irresponsible, deceptive and have a sense of entitlement. Despite attempting to steal $4.5 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a Wayne, New Jersey couple’s lawyer considered them to be “good people.” Their food stamp fraud scheme proved otherwise.

The New Jersey couple owned and operated a medium-sized grocery store in Paterson where they carried out their food stamp fraud scheme for more than four years. Court documents show that the two would allow food stamp beneficiaries to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase five dollars of food. The male owner would charge the customer’s EBT card for $75, then give them some of the cash back while keeping the remaining portion for himself.

To conceal the food stamp fraud scheme, the owner wrote checks from the grocery store bank account containing SNAP fraud proceeds to a supplier. The supplier cashed the checks, then gave the fraud scheme proceeds back to the owners. (I’m sure the supplier took a cut too.) The store owner was generous in that he shared the government benefits that he stole with various family members who had no connection to the grocery store. (Perhaps this fraudster’s generosity was confusing to his lawyer who considered his clients to be “good people.”)

The illegal scheme was brought down by a customer who was directed by law enforcement agents to make 16 purchases at the New Jersey grocery store. The transactions provided the evidence needed to convict the store owners of food stamp fraud. (It’s important to share that this was not the couple’s first run-in with the law.) The man was previously barred from participating as a food stamp retailer because he allowed the exchange of SNAP benefits for cash at another store he owned. (To get around this ban, he listed someone else as the owner of his grocery store, so he could once again participate as a food stamp retailer.)

The 65-year-old man pleaded guilty to SNAP fraud and money laundering while his 61-year-old wife pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government through food stamp fraud. When sentenced, the SNAP fraud and money laundering charges could get the husband up to 40 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The wife could get up to five years behind bars and a fine of $250,000.

The New Jersey couple’s attorney stated that he was not sure how much of the $4.5 million they attempted to steal was kept but pointed out that they admitted their mistake. (Yes, but that’s because they were caught, not because they suddenly realized the crime they were committing was wrong.) Despite the generosity they showed to their family members by sharing their stolen wealth, these two deceptive, selfish and irresponsible individuals will no longer be entitled to receive food stamp benefits. (I call that a very good resolution to a very bad people problem.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article, N.J. husband and wife admit $4.5M food stamps fraud scheme,” published by USA Today on April 12, 2019.  

A New Jersey couple has admitted to a scheme in which their grocery store fraudulently exchanged food stamps for cash — totaling more than $4.5 million over four years — while they kept some of the money for themselves.

The couple, Ibrahim Zughbi, 65, and his wife, Miriam Zughbi, 61, of Wayne, New Jersey, owned and worked at Jamaica Meat Market in Paterson from 2014 to 2018, according to a statement from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.